The Rob Porter scandal is at least four-fold: Why did White House officials allow the now-former staff secretary to stay on board after they received early warnings about him? Why did they stand up for his integrity and honor, even after the allegations that he’d physically abused two wives? Why did they give conflicting accounts of their decision-making in parting ways with Porter last Wednesday? And why-oh-why did they allow the White House staff secretary — who deals with some of the country’s most sensitive documents — to execute his duties without a permanent security clearance?
At Monday’s White House press briefing, NBC News’s Kristen Welker pushed White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on that last question: “Once again, that’s a question that the FBI and other intelligence communities — they make that determination, that’s not something that’s decided by the White House.”
That weak response merited a return volley, so Welker asked if the White House could guarantee the protection of classified information in light of the Porter revelations. “I think we’re doing and taking every step we can to protect classified information,” said Sanders, just getting started. “I mean, frankly, if you guys have such concern with classified information, there’s plenty of it that’s leaked out of the Hill, that’s leaked out of other communities, well beyond the White House walls. If you guys have real concerns about leaking out classified information, look around this room. You guys are the ones that publish classified information and put national security at risk,” said Sanders.
If you’re in a corner, always, always blame the media. That’s the premier rule for any press secretary under President Trump. Especially if, in the same breath, you raise questions about the media’s patriotism. There’s an audience for just this sort of content, too. Cable-news producers know exactly what they’re doing when they persist in broadcasting live just about every minute of these press briefings. Which is to say, people will witness the beatdowns:
The brand promise for this presidency is, "Watch: we will put these people down for you." The briefing room is a theatre for the fulfillment of that promise. The more the press does the job is has traditionally done, the better the put-down script becomes. #sendtheinterns https://t.co/IpDhdweqvg
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) February 12, 2018
For the record, yes, news organizations do occasionally publish leaks of classified information. That’s part of a duty to the American public, which has a right to know when its money is being used for unworthy purposes. One example can be seen in American cinemas: The Pentagon Papers, a secret history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government,” declared Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in New York Times v. United States.
Another good example unfolded about a year ago, when news outlets published details about then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Sergey Kislyak, who was the Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential transition. “I thought it was against the law to disseminate classified information. Is it?” asked Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) at a congressional hearing with top administration officials. Trumpites were outraged by the Flynn-oriented leaking.
As it turned out, Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversation with the Russian ambassador. He also allegedly misled his own colleagues in the White House. What was it Black said about rooting out deception? It’s an imperative that, with this White House, is more critical than ever.